Q&A from 'Raise the Roof'

02/13/2015

After receiving a standing ovation Raise the Roof, filmmakers, Yari Wolinsky and Cary Wolinsky, and film subjects, Laura and Rick Brown, participated in a Q&A about the film and the project. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

Q: Why did you decide to make AJFF the place for the world premiere?
Yari: I would say why not? I mean, we just saw why. Choosing a place to premiere a film often comes down to a schedule, but the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is the perfect place to premiere the film.

Q: This one is for the Browns. I know that you have been asked this before, but you're not Polish, you're not Jewish, so why a wooden synagogue from Poland?
Laura: We start with an object not a subject in our projects. We were actually introduced to the wooden synagogues of Poland while doing a project making a human powered crane. We're interested in material culture. We're interested in making and how that connects to history and culture. Who made it, why they made it, how they made it, and why is it important. The wooden synagogue, when we were shown an image similar to the one at the beginning of the film, is wooden. We love wood. It's a very intriguing structure. It's lost in history. And the wooden components really caught us initially.
Rick: Again, our primary focus is education, we are focused on learning and the process of learning. We thought this project was going to be an amazing learning journey because of how little is known about the structures and the history. also because although it wasn't a target, we felt like the loss of this art and architecture, happening the way it did, would be something very relevant today.

Q: Cary, your background is a photographer for National Geographic, how did you learn about this project and what drew you to it?
Cary: I discovered the Browns, or they discovered me, in the woods one day. In an area where they live, surrounded by conservation land where we walk our dogs. And they were building something and I stopped by and said, "What's going on here?" and I was hooked. I did two stories about the human powered crane and the revolutionary war submarine for National Geographic and we just became extended family. Then, when Yari came along, and put it into film, it was motion, sound, this is really cool stuff!

Q: Yari, what were the challenges and rewards of working in a father/son team on this movie?
Yari: Well most people can't imagine working with their family. It's like, once I go to college, I'm never going to look back, except maybe holidays. But my father and I have been working together for a really long time. Basically my whole life. When we would go to China, when China was first opening, I was the blue eyed baby that drew the crowds away so that he could sneak in to take a photograph of something. Or if we went to Egypt and we were trying to photograph mummies in a dark tomb, I was the one who held the first mirror to the next mirror to the next mirror to bounce the light down the corridor. And when we started collaborating to make movies, it was my first opportunity to say "Here's this really heavy light that I'm going to make you hold for three hours." We work together well. We split up the division of labor in making the film into producing and directing and we have a good, happy place in the middle where we creatively work together.

Q: Where either of you interested in Jewish history before this project came along?
Cary: Well, I am Jewish and I am Polish. And I wasn't interested. I grew up in Pennsylvania in an all Italian community, but I was born in 1947 and it was in a family that was raising money for Israel and I was kinda seeped in the Holocaust stories. And my sense of Jewish history was that we left Egypt and died in Poland. I kind of went into this kicking and screaming, but as the door opened on this thousand years of Jewish history, and as Poland as a real place, it became extremely personal.

Q: Why hold the painting workshops in 7 different polish cities?
Rick: Our thought always is to make the learning process as broad and expansive, as possible. And also to open it up as many opportunities for discovery, as possible. On our first proposal to the museum, one of the things that we said we want to do was first of all build the structure in southern Poland. And then second, that we wanted to break the painting up into 8 sections and to paint it in cities all throughout Poland. And also we proposed that we would work in existing synagogues. These are masonry synagogues. They were bombed and burned during WWII but because they were masonry, they survived and were restored and are used for things like art galleries and archives. The reason we thought that would be good is that we were using these respectfully as studios, but also to symbolically to reconstruct this nearly lost history in the synagogues and attracting the public to participate in the project because that would give them ownership of the project and make them feel like they are making a contribution to restoring this history that will ultimately go back to Warsaw. Each community brought its own unique personal qualities to the project and that built over the 3-year period to be an amazing learning experience for all the appeal that participated.

Q: What would you like have implanted into the viewers minds after seeing this film?
Cary: Go to Poland. It's real. Spread the word about this film and this project. There is a new generation on both sides of the Atlantic that is interested in talking to each other and this is just a small window of the healing process, but it's something you will have to experience yourself.